Tabor wins thriller over Sterling

Curry Parham releases a pass under pressure Saturday. Parham was 17-for-29 for 245 yards and three touchdowns in Tabor’s 45-42 victory over Sterling. He orchestrated the game-winning scoring drive with less than a minute to play, connecting with Darius Stallworth in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown pass with just 2 seconds left.In a thrilling battle of ranked teams, the No. 12 Tabor College football team defeated No. 25 Sterling, 45-42, Saturday, despite trailing, 28-9 at halftime.

Following a lackluster first-half performance, Tabor kicked it into gear in the second half, scoring more points in the fourth quarter than in the other three combined. In the final 5:15, the lead changed hands five times, and the Bluejays scored the game-winner with just 2 seconds left.

Tabor trailed, 28-18, heading into the fourth quarter and failed to score on their first opportunity in the period.

However, after a Sterling three-and-out, Tabor covered 56 yards in five plays on a drive capped by an 8-yard touchdown run by Joe Donnell. Jared Slavens’ kick brought Tabor within 28-25 with 9:36 to play.

With Tabor’s defense in lockdown mode, Sterling was forced to punt after three plays, and Tabor orchestrated a scoring drive to take its first lead. Curry Parham completed a 41-yard pass to Zach Johnson on the fourth play of the drive, setting up a 36-yard touchdown strike to Donnell down the left sideline. With 5:15 to play, Tabor took the lead, 32-28.

Sterling benefitted from a 37-yard kickoff return, then completed a 50-yard pass on first down. A facemask penalty put the Warriors at the Bluejay 1-yard line, and the Warriors crossed the goal-line from there, regaining a 35-32 lead.

Ontre’Von Cooper returned the ensuing kickoff 35 yards, and a 47-yard sprint by Cody Coleman on the third play of the drive set up a 5-yard touchdown run by Drevion Cooper with 3:05 left in the game. That put Tabor back in front, 39-35.

Again, Sterling responded. Following a 45-yard kickoff return, the Warriors crossed the goal line on a 2-yard touchdown run eight plays in to regain the lead, 42-39, with just 30 seconds left in the game.

Ontre’Von Cooper returned the kickoff 70 yards, and Tabor benefitted from a Sterling offsides penalty. That put the Bluejays at the Sterling 23-yard line with 19 seconds to play.

Parham completed an 11-yard pass to Johnson, but his next pass fell incomplete.

With just 2 seconds on the clock, Parham threw a perfect strike to Darius Stallworth in the end zone for a 12-yard score. The extra-point kick failed, but Tabor held a 45-42 advantage and sealed the win after the ensuing kickoff.

“We adjusted some of the stuff we were doing up front in the second half on defense, and it worked for awhile,” coach Mike Gardner said. “When you have to worry about a quarterback that’s that mobile and can run and throw and he’s got weapons around him, it’s tough. Defensively, (Sterling’s) no slouch either, but we were able to get them on their heels. I don’t know if they panicked or not, but it certainly seemed like we were able to take momentum and hang onto it for quite awhile.”

The game began with each team scoring once in the first quarter: Sterling on a 4-yard pass and Tabor on a 2-yard run by Drevion Cooper. Slavens’ kick was blocked, giving Sterling a 7-6 edge at the first break.

The Warriors then scored three touchdowns in succession to build their lead to 28-6 with 1:19 left in half.

Slavens nailed a 28-yard field goal with 6 seconds remaining, bringing the halftime score to 28-9.

Tabor’s defense stepped up the intensity after intermission, shutting out the Warriors in the third quarter. Meanwhile, the Bluejays scored on a 35-yard Slavens field goal and a 25-yard touchdown pass from Parham to Johnson, setting up the final quarter.

Of the final scoring drive, and Parham’s composure Gardner said: 

“There’s an old saying (that) says, ‘Players make plays in big games,’ but I think it’s more than just being a player and making a play. I think it’s having the ability to be calm while there’s chaos going on around you.

“It’s a mental state you put yourself in where you just remain in the moment and you don’t let the moment define you.”

Tabor rolled up 578 yards of offense, compared with 454 for Sterling. The Bluejays rushed for 298 yards, led by Donnell with 19 carries for 106 yards and one touchdown.

Through the air, Parham was 17-for-29 for 245 yards and three touchdowns. Keith Thomas was 2-for-3 for 35 yards. Johnson hauled in seven receptions for 113 yards and one touchdown.

Evan Sprayberry led the defense with seven tackles.

“That game easily could’ve boiled down to whoever had the ball last,” Gardner said. “Anytime you go through something like this and you actually win, it does nothing but give your guys confidence. I definitely think we grew as a team. I think we learned that the game is never, ever, ever over.”

Coming—Tabor (3-0, 3-1) will travel to Southwestern (0-3, 0-4) Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. game. Southwestern lost to Friends, 35-7, Saturday.

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